Special Report: Homeless work program offers tools for empowerment

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Every week, dozens of people hit the streets of downtown San Diego to collect tons of garbage and trash.

For some, it’s the first paid work they’ve done in years. They’re part of a homeless employment program called Wheels of Change.

On a recent weekday morning, we joined a crew of ten people who were selected by lottery to participate in one work crew.

Beverly Thompson said she welcomed the opportunity. “It gets you motivated to get up and get going and learn that all that effort that you’re putting forth actually has a payoff,” she said.

Wheels of Change was launched in March with a $70,000 donation from philanthropists Carolyn and Kevin Barber, with the goal of giving people living in the Alpha Project’s East Village bridge shelter an opportunity to work for pay.

Over the span of four hours, the crew of five men and five women are driven to different areas of the East Villlage and the Gaslamp Quarter where they pick up garbage and debris.

The crew members earn $11.50 an hour, which totals $46 for the shift. Mario Montgomery was a first time participant, cleaning up some of the same streets where he used to be strung out on heroin. “I would like to work and then eventually, get back into school. This is a first step and a giant step towards the goals I want to achieve,” Montgomery said.

Bob McElroy, the President and CEO of the Alpha Project said the Wheels of Change program allows others to look at these men and women at work in a different light. “For our folks, the biggest thing is being perceived as doing something positive for the community, instead of being a problem in the community. So it’s a win-win for everybody,” McElroy said.

The Alpha Project CEO said since the program’s inception, the crews have removed more than 20 tons of trash from the East Village. “And it’s all privately funded,” McElroy added.

There are already plans to expand the Wheels of Change program. Philanthropists Peter Seidler and Dan Shea with the Lucky Duck Foundation have purchased a second van.

The Alpha Project is in the process of raising funds to operate the van, and would like to have a second crew working on the street before Thanksgiving.

Categories: Local San Diego News